“I want to give to young children the gift that was recently given to me: The color of your skin is not a cross you bear. It is beautiful.”
As a child and through my teens, I was often told I had so many admirable qualities that could mask the one undesirable one: my dark skin. Apparently, if I didn’t posses those “admirable” qualities, then the color of my skin would be a heavier cross to bear.
Accepting my “weakness” initially meant dealing with it the only way the world taught me. Education is an important tool used to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots in India. It also enables us darker girls to find our foothold in a society that undermines our value as a person.
Living in a Color-conscious World
When I worked at an inner city school in Long Beach, California, a young African-American student made the observation that she was black and yet, I was darker than she. When I returned to India to visit my sick grandmother, she remarked that even the U.S couldn’t “help me with my color.” It’s not easy to ignore these comments or the barrage of fair-skin propaganda in the media.
As I grew older, I learned to define beauty beyond color. Migrating to the U.S. helped with that process. It’s now been six years since my husband and I moved back to India. Even though I’ve embraced God’s mold for me, I still live and breathe the same air that is tainted with a preference for people unlike me.
For centuries, fair or light skin color has been a symbol of prominence, superiority and higher social ranking. An Indian girl’s marriage prospects have been— and still often are— governed by the hue of her skin. Skin whitening products today are a half-billion-dollar industry, with the latest products tailored to lighten even underarms and private parts.
Color bias crosses nations, ethnicities, races and socio-economic lines. The birthplace of colorism cannot be traced to a country or geographic region, but to the hearts and minds of those who have perpetuated this preference. Colorism impacts our thinking and our choices— whether we choose to notice it, disregard it or accept it.
Dark is Beautiful Campaign
The idea of standing up to color bias was introduced to me by a small NGO in Chennai that I now work for, called Women of Worth. The director, a vivacious lady who witnessed the degenerating spirits of dark girls in the city, wanted to speak out against the propagation of fair skin supremacy. This gave birth to the Dark is Beautiful campaign, which aims to instill a sense of pride and comfort in one’s skin, no matter what shade of white, yellow or brown it is.
The organization got the people of Chennai to lend their voice on this issue using various forms of artistic expressions like painting, photography, poetry and short story. For the first time,the words dark is beautiful reverberated in a public platform—not in the comfort of my mom’s shoulders or in the quietness of my meditating spirit—but in newspapers, radio waves, television news broadcasts, and social networking sites. For the first time, I witnessed people being challenged to shed their bias and value humanity.
The Gift of Color
For too long, I believed my skin color represented blemish, dirt and filth. Instead of waiting in the shadows, I should have taken my rightful place in school plays or family reunions. But I share an unspoken space and language with many other dark-skinned people who’ve hidden behind someone in a group photo, covered their smiles with the palms of their hand, and convinced themselves that they are beautiful— inside (whatever that means).
I can identify with children who struggle to comprehend their beauty and self-worth. In between hidden smiles, shy glances, and mesmerized looks of approval at the charming fair-skinned beauties, often lays helplessness, regret and shame.
As I continue to work with the Dark is Beautiful campaign, I want to give to young children the gift that was recently given to me: The color of your skin is not a cross you bear. It is beautiful. Our varied shades are expressions of our creator including and inviting us all to be his children.
Lydia Durairaj lives in Chennai, India with her husband and two children. In the coming school year, her goal is to help take Dark is Beautiful workshops to 45 schools and colleges.